Where There’s a Hearth, There’s Mirth

By Gary Willick, Fulfillment Specialist

Fireplace at the Bear Mountain Inn.

Fireplace at the Bear Mountain Inn. (Photo credit: Gary Willick)

As an adult, I discovered that most of the people I had known in my hometown of Teaneck, NJ, had moved away; I myself had moved to Closter, NJ. When visiting my parents and the old stomping grounds, I found that a casual trip to Cedar Lane or the local park no longer meant running into someone I had been friends with or a fellow musician I had played jazz with.

This lonely state of affairs was occasionally improved by the welcoming smell of a lit fireplace on one of my walks around town. More than reminding me of my childhood days of sitting around our own fireplace, it signified to me that other people, your average Joe and Virginia, were still enjoying the smell of burning wood and the enchantment of jumping flames. And that held the promise of welcoming faces and a friendly environment, especially on a cold but hearty winter day.

Sure enough, in my last year living in Closter, I discovered a local establishment that lit regular fires in a friendly situation and had the best burger in town to boot: the Schraalenburgh Farm. (What a relief to see that farmland still existed here! Stopping by the Farm is, to me, akin to a trip to the Jersey Shore in summer, with its well-known salubrious qualities.) Coming home to a warm living room after a winter hike always felt good, but now I had something even better to look forward to: buying a hot chocolate, taking off my wet hat and letting it warm by the fire, and enjoying the visions I perceived in the red and yellow spires.

At age 50 I moved back to the Teaneck area, only to recently discover three more places in the New York metropolitan area that have fireplaces close to hiking. (The list first appeared in an article for the Poughkeepsie Journal on creating your own après-hike itinerary. You can also find the list below.) That encouraging smell of burning wood from my walks in solitude had proven itself to be the hoped for indicator.

Situated near trails, these four fireplaces are more likely to be enjoyed by fellow hikers. This provides ample opportunity to share trail tales and more. It is all the more meaningful now, considering recent findings by the EPA that residential fireplaces are harmful in numerous ways to those breathing the burning wood particulates. My father no longer uses his fireplace for that very reason, but the environments these fireplaces are situated in are all in large rooms or outside open spaces, rendering the harmful effects much less deleterious. And visiting each place at most three times a season is far more favorable to the lungs than sitting in my own living room in front of a fire every week.

While enjoying these communal fireplaces, every person sees something different in the flames,. Everyone has some different story to tell, so the spirit of individualism that America is so proud of seems to be kept alive by the same substance that kept prehistoric man alive, warming him as he sat in his coat of fur and feeding him as he cooked the meat from the animal he had just hunted. We are reminded of how much we need each other and how important it is that we recognize our differences and foibles precisely in order to get along. Getting deep in to the woods helps us escape our technology-laden world and finishing our hike by gazing in to a hearth lets us travel in to our past and in to ourselves as well.

When we stare back at the jumping hot plumes, we can gain insight into what aspects of our history are worth preserving, and what things are better left behind. Our buildings, our institutions, even the planets and the stars, are in a constant state of flux. But when I sit myself down in front of a hot fireplace, I am reminded that the pace and direction of this flux is best set by the natural processes that have governed it as far back as anyone can imagine. I see how a simple, natural, and ancient thing like fire can put me in such a relaxed mood, able to perceive that the flames only appear to be racing. While change is a constant, and not always an improvement, it doesn’t have to always be accelerated or proceed without preserving things that we may need more than we are aware of.

Four Fireplaces to Visit Post-Hike

Schraalenburgh Farm, Closter, NJ
Hike: This pleasant, level hike loops around the 136-acre Closter Nature Center.
Après-hike: Fires are lit in wood-burning stoves situated outside the Country Farm Stand next to the Abram Demaree Homestead. The setting is cozy and there are tables under the awning. Fires are run most days during the cold season. Get the burger! The farm stand is open this winter, pending any future frigid weather, Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.

High Point State Park, Sussex County, NJ
Hike: This loop trail touches the High Point obelisk, the New York border, and Lake Marcia, and is among the most popular trails in the Kittatinny Range.
Après-hike: Winter trail use guidelines are in effect through April 1, requiring a trail pass for all trails north of Route 23 (with the exception of the Appalachian Trail) when there is adequate snow cover for skiing. Passes may be purchased at the High Point Cross Country Ski Center, which features a fireplace and concessions.
A fire will be lit at the Interpretive Center during special events like the annual Winter Festival on Saturday, Jan. 30. The fireplace area is open to everyone during special events, even if you don’t participate in the activities. A donation of $5 per person to benefit the Friends of High Point State Park is recommended.

Bear Mountain, Rockland County, NY
Hike: This loop hike climbs Bear Mountain on a newly built section of the Appalachian Trail and descends on the Major Welch Trail, passing a number of panoramic viewpoints.
Après-hike: The historic Bear Mountain Inn, situated at the foot of Bear Mountain, offers a more upscale post-hike experience. The beautifully restored fireplace is lit Thursday through Sunday nights during dinner hours at Restaurant 1915, but you don’t have to purchase a meal to enjoy the comfy couches and crackling flames.

Campgaw Mountain County Reservation, Bergen County, NJ
Hike: This loop hike climbs gradually to the summit of Campgaw Mountain, with a sweeping view of Bergen County and the New York City skyline.
Après-hike: The fireplace at the Campgaw Mountain Ski Lodge is lit when the ski lift is running. The good news: They’ve currently got a solid base of man-made snow and are open daily.

About Trail Walker

Since 1920, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has partnered with parks to create, protect, and promote a network of more than 2,100 miles of public trails in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region. The Trail Conference organizes volunteer service projects that keep these trails open, safe, and enjoyable for the public. We publish maps and books that guide public use of these trails. The Trail Conference is a volunteer-driven nonprofit organization with a membership of 10,000 individuals and 100 clubs with a combined membership of 100,000 active, outdoor-loving people.
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One Response to Where There’s a Hearth, There’s Mirth

  1. Bill M says:

    Very interesting and informative. I appreciate the writer’s efforts.

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